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Gov Deval Patrick's Tenure Nears The End

Dwight Sipler

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, the state’s first black governor and first Democratic governor in 16 years, will walk out of the Statehouse next week and hand the key to the corner office to Republican Charlie Baker.

       Patrick came to office in 2007 as a self-described optimist, but not a foolish one.  He painted the broad brushstrokes of an agenda for better schools, more jobs, and what he called “civic engagement” to achieve a vision for Massachusetts as place of opportunity for all. Patrick pledged to be governor for the entire state and pursue policies that would have a generational impact, not just affect the next election.

   " We have had too many years of leadership more interested in having the job than in doing the job," Patrick said in his first State of the Commonwealth address.

   There was a major obstacle along the way as just a year after Patrick took office the Great Recession hit. 

     Patrick proudly points out that the Massachusetts economy recovered faster than the other states and grew at a more rapid pace than the national economy. More people are working in Massachusetts now than at any time in the last 25 years.  The state’s bond rating is at a record high. The so-called rainy day fund is one of the largest of any state.

    Michael Widmer, who has run the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation for more than two decades, gives Patrick high marks for managing the state’s finances, but says businesses remain burdened by too many regulations and high corporate taxes.

   "I'd give him lower marks on the economic front," said Widmer.

    Patrick pursued an economic development strategy that prioritized government spending in the areas of education, innovation, and infrastructure which he said would spur private investment and job growth.

    "The unglamorous work of investing in infrastructure is really critical," Patrick explained in an interview earlier this year in Springfield.

     Patrick’s focus on the innovation economy included a $1 billion initiative to bolster the life sciences industry in Massachusetts.  Incentive programs led to a five-fold increase in solar power generation during Patrick’s time in office.

   His economic legacy also includes the legalization of Las Vegas-style gambling and the licensing of three casinos.

   Pre-school education expanded during the last eight years, but not fast enough to eliminate a waiting list of thousands of children.  Achievement gaps on math and English tests narrowed between white and minority school students.  Higher education funding increased to allow the University of Massachusetts to freeze tuition and fees for two consecutive years.

  State Senator Stan Rosenberg of Amherst, the presumptive next Senate President, said Patrick was a very effective governor.

  "He is a very deep thinker, who surrounded himself with people who had big ideas. They have been able to advance some of them quite far and make a big difference in the Commonwealth," said Rosenberg.      

   Barbara Anderson, the long-time head of Citizens for Limited Taxation, recalled Patrick stumbled at the start of his first term when he caused a stir over wanting new office furnishings and a new official vehicle.

    " He became governor without being vetted. He came out of the private sector, and did have a clue how government is different from the private sector. He never set up that connection with the legislature, which may be a good thing," Anderson reflected.

   And, there were serious problems during Patrick’s second term with the state’s child welfare agency losing track of a five-year-old boy, who was later found dead. A rogue lab technician jeopardized thousands of drug-related convictions, and the state’s health connector website broke down.

   Patrick had never run for elected office before 2006, when he used stirring oratory to energize the progressive Democratic base in Massachusetts. He made a famous plea at the 2012 state party convention for Democrats to stick to their values.

" It is time for Democrats to grow a backbone and stand up for what we believe," he told the cheering crowd.

  Tim Vercellotti, a political science professor at Western New England University, said Patrick’s political legacy includes a statewide grassroots field organization that benefits all Democratic candidates.

  "This was a coordinated campaign. A much more efficient, smarter way of identifying and the mobilizing  your supporters and he used it to great effect," said Vercellotti.

A close ally of President Obama, Patrick’s legacy will come under the microscope if he seeks national political office, which he has said he might, but not in 2016.

Paul Tuthill is WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief. He’s been covering news, everything from politics and government corruption to natural disasters and the arts, in western Massachusetts since 2007. Before joining WAMC, Paul was a reporter and anchor at WRKO in Boston. He was news director for more than a decade at WTAG in Worcester. Paul has won more than two dozen Associated Press Broadcast Awards. He won an Edward R. Murrow award for reporting on veterans’ healthcare for WAMC in 2011. Born and raised in western New York, Paul did his first radio reporting while he was a student at the University of Rochester.
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